Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Survival Packs: You Don’t Need to Survive a Week in the Woods, Just a Day

The dedicated hunter of the modern day is a weekend warrior. They work 40 hours a week and patronize relatively nearby timber at the end of the week. They don’t go on week-long excursions miles away from civilization. With this in mind, they don’t need the same survival gear as those hunting thousands of acres in the middle of nowhere…they need a functional pack they won’t be afraid to use. This is my list of the top 15 pieces of equipment the everyday hunter should have when they take to the woods.

Everyone likes to be prepared when they enter the woods. While my largest concern seems to be on making sure I have all the hunting gear I need, I have started to neglect the concept of a “Survival Kit” for two reasons. First of all, I never really end up needing the equipment in a traditional survival pack. Like many hunters, I’ve always wondered how well I could fare in the wild by myself for over a week with a broken leg, a box of matches, and only twelve rounds left in my rifle, but let’s face it…these fantasies of survival are, for the most part, unrealistic. In my local hunting endeavors, I won’t use water purification tablets and waterproof fire starters. The second reason: If I do end up needing a part of it, I never want to use it. The concept of the survival kit is exactly that…to survive. If I don’t think I’m going to die with my problem, I simply leave it for a time I might. I’m glad to report that I have never been in a serious life or death situation in the woods, but there have been many times I could have utilized a cheap rain poncho or band-aids, but neglected using them both and decided to be soaked or bleed a little instead. I wasn’t dying from the rain or cut, so I deemed it unnecessary to use.

Here are 15 items that prove to be very functional in many outdoor situations:

1. Bottle of water-I never know how much walking is in store for me or how long I will stay out in the woods. Even slight dehydration can set in fast in the woods and put an end to your outdoor adventures.

2. Candy/jerky-Just like dehydration, low blood sugar can take a toll on the body. Something like candy or jerky can put that extra spring in your step when you’re deep in the woods and you need to keep moving.

3. Cheap rain poncho-Why do we as hunters endure precipitation constantly? Buy a few $1 ponchos and don’t be afraid to use them.

4. Rope-Sometimes you just never know. Rope has helped me in situations such as dragging out deer and hanging some equipment in my treestand.

5. Camp Saw-Be it turkey hunting, deer hunting, or even squirrel hunting, a cheap camp saw can always come in handy for clearing brush or getting through thick bones while field dressing your kill.

6. Multi-tool- A multi-tool is one of the handiest tools ever. Fix your weapon, your treestand, or anything else that needs semi-simple fixing in the woods.

7. Sharp knife- The knife is the universal tool of the outdoorsman. Anyone from a hunter to a hiker can utilize it.

8. Compass-If you’ve ever tracked a deer after the sun goes down, you know it is quite possible to lose your bearings in the dark. If you can get a general direction from a compass, you’ll save a few hours of walking in the wrong direction on the hike back to the truck.

9. Extra Sweatshirt- This is a no-brainer…keep from getting cold!

10. Band-aids of various sizes- You won’t be able to dress a gaping wound, but you can take care of any small cut with ease.

11. Whistle- The whistle is for the day that something bad happens and you truly cannot walk out of the woods. A whistle can be heard from very far away and you’ll be able to save your voice from hours of screaming.

12. Flashlight- This always becomes a necessity when it gets dark.

13. Bug repellent- I hate being pestered by bugs when I’m outdoors. A small can of this stuff can save a lot of grief.

14. Toilet paper- This holds two functions; the first is obvious. Sometimes nature calls and it is always better than dried oak leaves. The second function involves tracking deer in unfamiliar territory. Placing pieces of toilet paper on trees every ten or twenty yards while you track can help you get back to your land in the dark. It also makes the blood trail easy to pick up if you leave the deer overnight.

15. Cellphone- Be smart and carry a cellphone. I know reception can be low at times, but it can be the difference between living and dying in the woods.

I usually take a backpack when I enter the woods. Most of these items are small and they can be put in outside pockets of my pack, leaving plenty of room for the rest of my hunting gear. Some people like to take the minimal amount into the woods with them. I think of my father taking only his bow, three arrows, and a knife. While the simplicity of this is appealing, the items I put in my pack keep me out in the field longer and keep me more comfortable. With this “Survival Kit,” you might not be able to survive a week alone in the wilderness, but you’ll definitely be able to survive a full day of high quality hunting.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Most Underrated Deer Recipe Ever

Venison has saved my life. As I've said before, I am a college student who is almost always low on funds. When it comes to food, I feel like I have transformed into a bottom feeder, consuming unhealthy snackfoods,tv dinners, and whatever else I can get my hands on every week. After years of the same old college cafeteria food, I was in need of something more. Venison, however, has become an amazingly cheap and healthy alternative in my college experience.

I've noticed a trend in deer recipes within the past few years. Everyone seems to come up with their own amazing and intricate recipe every time. For example, take a jerky or sausage recipe...have you ever seen a simple or plain recipe for these? It seems like every person is trying to enter into a contest when they make it. You always find those with the "secret" recipe, as well. They guard their recipe cards with their life. One of the problems with these types of recipes is price. Making fancy marinades, utilizing a smoker, and even using an array of spices can become expensive. While I, like everyone else, have a few amazing and intricate recipes, my focus today is on simplicity: substituting ground deer in a Hamburger Helper boxed dinner.

These types of recipes have become some of my favorite recipes for deer. I tell other hunters this, and I often get that confused if I've just taken the sacred deer meat and tainted it with a civilian recipe. It's like I haven't honored the hunter's unspoken code of spending hours in the kitchen after a kill, concocting the next recipe that everyone will be begging for at next year's hunting get-together. I wish I had all the time and resources to do such a thing, but I must face the facts: I don't. I know that many hunters, especially those who hunt for meat alone, tend to find themselves in my shoes. This is a perfect meal for them, as well as anyone who is wanting something a little different for themselves and their families.

Obviously, what drew me into the Hamburger Helpers was the price. Go to the grocery store, and you'll see a box of this stuff costs usually around $1.50 a box. When funds are extremely short, I'll spring for some generic brands which usually stand under $1.00 per box and taste almost identical to the name brands. The second reason I go for this type: variety. These boxed dinners offer a huge selection of tastes and styles that can accommodate for anyone's palate. The third reason I choose this for my dinner: it is easy to make. You don't have to be a five star chef with a Master's in Culinary Arts to make this stuff. Follow the three-step directions on the back of the box and you'll have a tasty plate on the table in 30-40 minutes.

When I make this cheap delicacy, I make two boxes worth and mix in roughly a 1.5-1.75 pounds of meat. Deer meat, especially bucks shot during the rut, tend to have a "gamey" taste, so I like to mask the strong taste with two boxes instead of one. I'll throw in some mashed potatoes and Bisquick biscuits and have enough good tasting food to last me three days, or one night of feeding the other guys I live with. The boxed dinner has been one extremely successful way of introducing deer meat to others. Many people, especially those who don't hunt, are reluctant to sit down and take a big bite of a deer steak on their plate, but feel more willing to try deer in a Hamburger Helper. I've never had a bad review at the table with anyone who has tried it. Once, a vegetarian I live with (while drunk) decided he was hungry and tried some--he liked it so much, he ate the whole bowl!

When I first got into deer hunting, I did it mostly for the sport. I enjoyed the meat, but I never made my time in the woods about bringing home dinner. My thoughts as a hunter have completely changed for the better. When I pay my $27 for a deer tag in the fall, I'm looking to get meat I can live on for the following year. I process my own deer, so the cost is dropped even more. With the cost of milk and butter for added ingredients, I think I can get away with making three or four solid meals for about $5-$6. While it isn't the most prestigious way to cook your trophy, it is certainly a quick, easy, and tasty option.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Product Review: Plano 45102 Adjustable Rod Case

I remember my first fly rod. It was actually snagged from the bottom of a lake by my grandfather several years ago. His guess was a careless fisherman decided to move his boat a little too fast across the water without fastening down their equipment. They probably hit a big wake and out flew the fly rod into the water. Their loss was my gain, however. The rod was still in amazing condition and looked almost new. It was an 8'5" Cortland rod...probably a little too nice for a beginner fly fisherman. After several years of cutting my teeth with that rod, it met its end by getting slammed in the door of my car. How could this horrific thing happen? Simple: I didn't have a rod holder or case. I was extremely frustrated at my loss, and even more frustrated when I went to purchase a new rod. I looked at a local sporting goods dealer and almost vomited at the sight of the price tags. I felt more willing to snap a limb off a tree before I paid that much money. I eventually gave in and bought a new one with a vow to NEVER transport it without a case again.

Plano 45102 Adjustable Rod Case
Suggested Retail: $49.99
Color: Green and Tan
Features: Adjusts from 5'3" to 8'5"-lockable-hinging door-handle for carrying

I actually picked up this prized piece at a fishing show last month. I've been without one for a couple years, despite my vow to never move my fly rod without it. Most rod cases I have found start around $50, and I'll be honest...I'm cheap. Luck was in my favor at the fishing show. Just as I was about to exit the show, I noticed a table selling them. I payed only $26.75 for it, and so far it feels like one of the best investments I've ever made for my fishing equipment.

Advantages: One of the obvious advantages to this product is the ease of adjusting. Depending on the type of fishing you do and the type of equipment you have, if you can manage to keep the rods under 8'5", you're good to go. I personally do mostly bluegill, bass, and catfishing. My fly rod is a two piece, and all my other rods don't exceed the limit. This case has the ability to hold many rods at once, making it ideal for taking long trips. I just took a trout fishing trip with a friend a couple weeks ago, and the case held four rods with ease. It kept the car organized and the rods safe, which is all I could personally ask for. The case is too small to keep reels on the rods, but I didn't find it that much of an inconvenience. The case itself is made of a hard plastic. While I haven't tested its durability, I don't foresee any damage happening to the tube itself. It is made of plastic, however, and might not be able to withstand being run over by a car. I am confident it will keep the rods safe, especially from closing car doors.

Disadvantages: While easy adjusting is one of the major advantages of the product, it can also be seen as its downfall. Fully extended, this is one long piece of equipment which you might find trouble putting in your car. I drive a Jeep Wrangler...there is definitely not enough room to fit the case fully extended. On my fishing trip, we used a Chevrolet Blazer with the tube fully extended--it ran from the back window all the way to the windshield. It didn't obstruct the view or make riding overly awkward for a long period of time, but it wasn't something we could just "keep out of the way." It is important you know your vehicle ahead of time. You might not even be able to use it in a small vehicle. For me, my fly rod can be broken down into two pieces a little over 4' long, making the tube perfect for the Jeep. While I don't like that I have to neglect my other rods, they are far less expensive than the fly rod.

I would like to recommend this product to all fishermen who travel with their rods. Not all rods are the same. It seems impossible to just go and pick up a new rod that has the same feel and action as one that gets broken. While I picked up this rod case for an extremely good deal, I think I would pay the full price. I feel that my gear is protected well by it, and I know the price I pay now is only peanuts to what I could be paying in the future for broken rods.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Early Season Gills

After an excruciating defeat last weekend against the trout of Delaware County in Northeast Iowa, I was eager to hit one of my favorite ponds for some early season bluegill fly fishing. As I stepped out of my jeep in the gravel parking area, the temperature was in the mid 70' of the warmest days we've had so far this year. I've been to this pond only once within the last month. The water then was beginning to turn over. The slightest hint of debris was forming around the waters edge as a beginning symbol of Spring weather. I believe only one fish was taken during that outing. Yesterday, all sorts of debris had materialized on the surface of the water. Both turtles and frogs had emerged from their hibernation. All the pieces of the puzzle were there: the sights, the sounds, even the smells of Spring.
With a good friend visiting from Illinois, I took to the backside of the pond in hopes to snag into a few fish cruising for an early supper. With an hour or two of no luck, I decided to make my way to a commonly fished dock. It was now about 6:00pm, and the heat of the day was beginning to dwindle. When the bluegill fishing is at its peak for this pond, the spot is unbeatable. With no real hopes for catching fish, I tossed my hand-tied wet fly into the water. Almost instantly, I had a bite. Surprised by this sudden change in action, I tossed the fly in the exactly same spot. With a few pulls of the line, I managed to get my first bluegill of the day. I was extremely pleased by the performance of this fly.

TAIL: Moose Fur (just three or four hairs)
BODY: Steel wire (for weight) covered in thread
HACKLE: Brown Grizzly Hackle

Soon after a couple fish had been caught, my usual demise occurred...the fly was snagged on a high limb of a surrounding tree. I was unable to recover the fly, but I hope to make more in the future. The steel wire gave the fly fast sinking abilities, getting under the surface of the water quickly and efficiently.

Fish had started popping the surface of the water for the evening feed--something I have been waiting for months to see. I wanted to test out a new dry fly I had tied in the off-season.

TAIL: Yellow Bucktail
BODY: Brown Dubbing
WING: Yellow Bucktail
HACKLE: Brown Grizzly Hackle

On the first cast, I received one small bite on the top-water fly. The next cast, I had my first fish on a dry fly in 2009. I was overly amazed at the success of the evening. This fly found the same end as the previous, however, on a tall nearby tree. My excitement for the action made my attention to where I was casting wander.

The evening was a major success in my eyes. I even caught a bluegill off my homemade foam spider (more to come about that soon). While trout might hold prestige in the fishing world, I still say there is nothing better than fishing for bluegill in a small pond. Judging from the outcome of Saturday night, I am now officially pumped for the upcoming season.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Trout Fly Fishing

One of my passions in life is fly fishing--something I acquired from my grandfather before he died. I've been fishing bluegill ponds for years with great success. This Spring Break, however, a friend and I decided to take our fly fishing to new heights and head to Northeast Iowa in search of trout. Trout streams aren't what you would call "native" to Iowa, especially in the Southern part, but I've been hearing about the Northeast streams for years. We headed up to Delaware County with three streams in mind:

Bailey's Ford

Manchester Hatchery

Richmond Springs

It is important to note before this experience that I have done NO trout fishing of any sort. I've done a fair amount of reading, however, and I certainly realized it would be one of the hardest types of fishing I've ever done, especially with a fly rod. We entered into Bailey's Ford after a three and a half hour drive with extremely high hopes. On our first trip down the stream, we were greeted by the visual of trout in the water. After intense reading and discussion with those who have made the trip themselves, we decided on an arsenal of wooly buggers in both brown and black. We spent roughly three or four hours at the stream with no luck at all. We had a few fish chase the fly and one solid bite, but no luck.

Our next stop was the stream connected to the Manchester Hatchery. Right out of the car, we visually saw HUNDREDS of trout lining the sides of the stream. This was more than pleasing to us, and we were eager at the opportunity to fish. After placing the flies in the water, we could clearly see it would be more difficult than we had imagined. If we were lucky, a fish would follow the fly, but often times the fish would simply swim away at the first glimpse of it. I actually managed to catch my first trout--a 13 inch brown trout off a dry fly.

The rest of the evening was spent at useless attempts to catch my first rainbow trout, but no luck. My friend managed to catch a couple rainbows and one brook trout. The next day, I struck out on fishing, not even getting a bite the entire day. My friend caught on to a little tip which assisted him in landing a few fish during the day: weight down the fly. He did this at first with a piece of split shot, making it unable to cast like a conventional fly. When we retired for the evening, we took to making new flies with a lot more weight.

Our last day, we decided to head to Richmond Springs. This was by far the most disappointing trip. Richmond Springs lies in Backbone State Park in Delaware County. Our first problem with this site: Nothing was labeled. We're lucky we even found the stream. All the gates were closed going into the park, making a very long and treacherous hike. We eventually found the stream, but only actually saw one fish and not as much as a nibble on the flies.

On the last day, we headed back to Manchester Hatchery and pulled in a few more trout, but nothing with a large enough size to keep (there was a 14" minimum in this stream).

While the weekend wasn't a total loss, I do have one complaint: There appears to be a huge class issue with my fellow fly fishermen. I'll admit, I haven't spent a TON of money on my fly gear. I'm a college student with outstanding loans and little income. Most of my equipment is meant for function in the field, and I daresay it suits me well. I find it odd, however, that just because I wasn't decked out in the latest waders, fly vest, and designer fly fishing hat, I didn't get the time of day from the fishermen who were. This being my first trip to the streams, I was personally looking for helpful tips and friendly conversation with those I encountered. Only one man was actually willing to talk with us about fishing over the whole weekend. They seemed to be cheerful to those of their own kind, but definitely not to us. Apparently blue jeans, hunting boots, Rolling Stones sweatshirt and a baseball cap doesn't qualify me as a "real fly fisherman." If by any odd chance you find yourself reading this and decide this might be you...STOP IT. If you want to be a real outdoorsman, open up your mind to a new emerging generation of outdoorsman. And come on...can we not make it about money?

Overall, the experience was worthwhile. It is always fun to test new waters, especially in fly fishing. Will I go back? Maybe...the output wasn't nearly as worthwhile as I imagined. It is difficult to commit myself when hundreds, if not thousands of fish are in the streams and ignore my flies for almost three days. On the plus side, the scenery was beautiful...and it is always nice to get outside during Spring Break.


Hello! This is the first of (hopefully) many blogs to come about the outdoors. I hope you enjoy what you read. Please feel free to comment on anything you'd like--I love hearing from others.